WASHINGTON — In an effort to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of U.S. military services, the Space Force will propose a new plan to acquire high-capacity satellite communications. 

Senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are set to be briefed on this plan in the coming weeks, said Lt. Gen. Philip Garrant, deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs and requirements

“We are working through the wideband satellite communications force design, and we’re going to brief that to the JROC sometime before early May,” Garrant told SpaceNews

If the plan goes forward, it will inform the Pentagon’s 2025 budget proposal. 

The JROC is the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a panel led by the four-star vice chiefs of each military service. They review and validate proposed acquisition programs based on whether they align with the military’s strategic goals.

One of the responsibilities of the chief of the U.S. Space Force is to serve as the “force design architect for space,” Garrant explained. That means the Space Force has to consider the needs of the entire joint force when developing procurement plans for satellites and commercial space services. 

A Space Force organization known as SWAC, short for Space Warfighting Analysis Center, is in charge of studying these needs and recommending a plan for how to meet them. 

“This is what we will brief the JROC: How is Space Force going to provide wideband communications to the joint force?” Garrant said. 

“That’s one of our major responsibilities as a new service. So we work very closely with the other services to make sure we incorporate their requirements so our force design is informed by all the services and not just us,” he said.

Wideband communications refers to satellites that provide high-speed data communications that allow for the transmission of large amounts of data, such as video and high-resolution images.

Lt. Gen. Phillip Garrant. Credit: Air&Space Forces Association

Growing needs across DoD

Garrant said the SWAC’s study looked at the rising demands for high-speed communications across the military services and DoD’s regional commands around the world. The needs are especially acute in remote areas where terrestrial infrastructure is limited.

The military also has dramatically increased the use of bandwidth-intensive applications such as video streaming, remote sensing and remotely operated aerial vehicles.

The wideband communications proposal will include a mix of DoD, commercial and allied nations’ satellite systems, Garrant said. “It covers Protected Tactical Satcom, and what comes after WGS.” 

Protected Tactical Satcom is an ongoing program to develop jam-resistant communications payloads. WGS, short for Wideband Global Satcom, provides services to the U.S. military and allies. 

The Space Force has to take into account specific satcom needs such as those of the Navy. Naval forces, for example, require access to certain frequencies  that operate in tough atmospheric conditions. Garrant said filling DoD’s diverse demands will require a mix of systems that operate in different orbits and provide different levels of security.

Commercial companies, he said, were invited by the SWAC to provide input for the wideband study.

The Space Force budget funds satellite procurements but it’s up to each of the services to pay for commercial services and for the ground terminals required to talk to satellites. 

“We may develop a standard terminal but the services are going to have to procure the terminals themselves for their platforms,” Garrant said.

Commercial satcom options

When it comes to satcom services, Space Force is trying to take advantage of the industry’s new capabilities in high-throughput communications, said David Micha, president of Intelsat General Communications.

The company is the U.S.-based subsidiary of the global satellite operator Intelsat and provides satcom services to DoD, NASA and other agencies. 

With regard to the SWAC study, Micha said in an interview, the industry sees the Space Force “really trying to make a wholehearted attempt to integrate commercial satellite offerings in with their current warfighting infrastructure.”

“They want the global coverage, the resiliency and cyber hardening that have been put into commercial satellites,” he said. The U.S. Army has seen a massive growth in demand for high data-rate communications, Micha said, and plans to start a pilot program this summer to evaluate commercial services. 

The Space Force wants to work with multiple providers and with a mix of government and commercial networks because they need access to every orbit and every radio-frequency band, Micha said. “They want the ability to connect anywhere in the world. They want the low latency of low Earth orbit satellites, but when LEO is not working, they can move over to geosynchronous satellites.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...